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Moscow Impressions

Letter No. 3

(p. 18)

American Embassy
Moscow, U.S.S.R.
Nov. 21, 1937
Dr. Vladimir K. Zworykin
RCA Mfg. Co., Inc.
Camden, N.J., U.S.A.

Dear Doc:

Your comments and advice about the conditions and the people here have proved very useful on various occasions. Not useful enough to keep Wally from being arrested two times for taking pictures, or to keep us from being evicted from the hotel, or to get gasoline for my car, but nevertheless useful in other ways.

As for the amateur photography situation, it seems that one is permitted to take certain pictures but the cops never know which ones. So they invariably arrest any foreigner taking any picture. We know of one American who, after being promptly arrested, asked the chief how any amateur photography could be prac­ticed. The chief solved that by assigning a cop to go around with the American, the sole duty of this cop being to keep other cops away! Such peculiarities—strange to one who knows Russia as you do, but I believe that even you would be surprised at the increased suspicion and restrictions recently directed toward foreigners.

Our eviction from Russia’s largest and best hotel, the “Moscow”, was a sad event. All foreigners had to leave it before the November celebration of the October revolution. The Trust thought that it could keep us in bat all efforts availed naught. Then things reached the state where we either had to get out or be forcibly put out, we packed up. We are now in (p. 19) the “Metropolis” where I have a large single room (had a suite before) containing: the most ghastly furniture imaginable, a grand piano and, for no reason at all, four enormous marble columns right in the middle of the room. The bathroom boasts a heated towel rack, a shower which of course doesn’t work, warm water most any time, a tub which does work, a basin which won’t drain. Wally’s tub, on the other hand, drains without notice, so he bathes in a big hurry. In some respects this hotel rates higher than the Moscow. For instance, there are an orchestra and dining room here whereas neither can be found in the and breakfasts here are $3.00 instead of a measly $2.50.

The gasoline shortage has been acute again. For several days my car was parked at the Embassy with less than a gallon in the tank. One day we couldn’t get to work because my car, the Trust cars, the Trust trucks and even the taxis were dry. Imagine that in America! Of course getting a taxi is often a pretty sad experience even when gas is plenti­ful. On one occasion recently our interpreter, after telephoning for a half hour for one, was informed that none were available. When he asked, “When will one be available?”, the reply was “Tomorrow”.

The November 7th celebration was quite impressive. On that day the doors of this hotel were locked at 7:00 AM to stay locked for most of the day. So we left the hotel a few minutes before 7:00 AM and at that early hour had to argue our way through only one police line before reaching the Embassy. We had been invited by the Commissar’s Assistant to see everything from the Red Square but the invitation never materialized in the form of tickets, in spite of our frequent reminders, all of which we of course had anticipated and (p. 20) therefore weren’t disappointed. From the embassy roof we had a fair view of the Red Square.

The military part of the parade started at 10:00 o’clock and lasted three hours. During that time the procession through the Red Square of large tanks, small tanks, slow and very fast ones, guns, motorcycles, bicycles, armed cars, etc., was continuous and seemingly endless. In previous celebrations tanks and other units broke down. It is significant that this year all of the equipment worked. We spent that afternoon in one of the Embassy apartments where we ate good American food and watched the workers’ portion of the parade. It lasted until after four o’clock. Almost every Moscow worker including engineers was in it, by “invitation”. Most of them had to meet at appointed places on the streets at 7:00 AM, then stand around until one, two, three or four o’clock to march. Altogether we saw between 1,500,000 and 2,000,000 people, which is too many.

That evening on the enormous square in front of this hotel and on other public squares there were free movies, acrobatic performances and dancing (in overcoats). Tens of thousands of Russians had come in from the provinces so Oriental and Asiatic costumes were much in evidence.

Getting theatre tickets is as much of an ordeal as ever. We practically never can get them, even when seats are available, without first getting just the right kind of letter from the Trust. This formality is due to unwilling­ness at the ticket office to accept responsibility for a sale to a foreigner. Just finding what is going to be at a certain theatre for the next week is sometimes quite involved. After making sure that they refuse to divulge such information by telephone you try Intourist, find that they haven’t the remotest idea of the answer, and end up by driving over to the theatre to find out.

(p. 21) The opera here suffers from a lack of good artists. But the ballet makes up for that. It is marvelous. There are only a few really outstanding ballets and they are superb, as you well know. Some Americans at the Embassy have seen the same ballet over thirty times. Of course that can be accounted for partly by the lack of other entertainment. The movies are hopeless. The ballet seems to be the only form of Russian entertainment which the average American enjoys. The facts that the intermissions are too long, that those in the royal box frequently eat apples and that the historic Bolshoi Theatre has funny smells make no difference. Soon I shall see “Sleeping Beauty” for the second time and tomorrow shall see “Bakhohisaraicky Fountain” for the second time, taking the Ambassador’s daughter.

At our studies of this annoying, awkward, difficult and exasperating language, Wally is now well ahead of me. He has had more time for study, his previous knowledge of a foreign language helped, and besides he is a better linguist than I. However at work I get along without an interpreter most of the time. Over a month ago I stopped taking lessons, wanted to change teachers. Locating a better teacher was easy but getting her to dare to teach a foreigner was a different matter. She wants to, and the Trust has written an official re­quest, but she hasn’t yet succeeded in getting a really protective authorization, thus no lessons. Hawkins’ teacher would have no more to do with his excellent textbook, the only one available, when she discovered that the last chapter contained instructions on business letters with sample letters indicative of capitalistic enterprise. It is illegal here for one to have in his home even a foreign magazine containing non-technical advertise­ments; and that law is no joke.

(p. 22) Speaking of languages, the other day when we insisted that one of the Trust’s letters to us be translated to English, here are some of the results:

“The door of the board needs an additional sawing.”

“The upper selvage was slightly bended that is due to the imperfect construction of the supporting laths, which entangled the cover for a long time.”

“All the jacks are shaking.”

“Some compensator keys are also loose, what is quite inadmissible.”

“When framing the case, the hinges were snatched from the screws.”

“There was found that two left hand doors are broken in seven places and the hinge is stroke off.”

“Two cable lengths with 4630 forks are supernumerary.”

And the other day when we passed a corner where a building had just been torn down and asked our interpreter “What will be built there?” he replied, “It was”.

Social contacts with the Russians are as difficult as ever. The secrecy required seems funny but I know of some tragic cases. Of course it is the Russian who runs the risk, not the foreigner. However the other day an American woman was arrested and detained four hours only because when walking for her health she happened to pass over the same route near the Kremlin twice and thus arouse suspicion. Things were more free in Leningrad but Tom Eaton reports that now they are tightening up.

(p. 23) Tom is now practically the only American engineer in Leningrad. In Moscow there are only a few left besides us and, by Christmas there will be only several.

The fellows in Veronezh are getting along better. The Trust finally supplied them with some usable beds and chairs. The bed bugs there have been successfully eliminated but a few fleas are always cropping up. We expect the fellows up here for Christmas, and Tom will come down from Leningrad.

My car was out of operation for a week. Then traveling at night on a new and sup­posedly excellent road, going as slowly as the mud would permit without getting stuck (just five miles from this hotel), it wasn’t possible to see that the ruts were very deep (they were filled with water) or that large boulders were hidden beneath the mud. The result was a bent tie rod, sheared bolts on the steering housing and a bent steering rod. Bolts of American size could neither be purchased nor made. So the holes were drilled oversize for Russian bolts, which were then made in a machine shop. Simple things like nuts and bolts are still seldom purchasable. When I insisted that the chauffeur get glycerin for the radiator, he tried all other means and finally purchased about 30 small bottles at a drug store. Well, that’s one way. My 89-cent tire pressure gage is probably the only one in Moscow and is con­sidered a marvel. The other day it was taken to the automobile school to be exhibited and demonstrated.

There are almost exactly as many chauf­feurs as there are automobiles. To attempt to operate a car without a chauffeur is impractical, (p. 24) even for a Russian, for the reasons mentioned in my letter to Wolff and for a few additional reasons. Incidentally chauffeurs are well paid, relatively. To show how well they rate it is only necessary to mention what happened several weeks ago. Then turning into a private driveway my chauffeur ran into a pedestrian on the sidewalk and knocked him down violently, it was entirely the chauffeur’s fault, but while the man was still lying on the sidewalk, a cop who saw it all pounced on him and bawled him out for being there.

Our request for permission to attach an outdoor antenna to our radio set, a request which we made over three months ago, finally was answered, with a definite and official “No’. The Trust tried to help but didn’t get very far. To have installed an antenna without a permit would have been impossible. Luckily the problem solved itself because it happens that in this hotel, unlike the other, fair reception of London and Berlin is possible with an indoor antenna. Another thing which we can’t do is to import food, except at l000% duty. Naturally we shipped the last order of food back to the supplier in Hamburg. As for passports, which are coveted because they are so rarely seen by their owners, for the last two weeks ours have been in some unavailable governmental bureau, undergoing their eighth minute examination.

Regarding the work, there is no need to tell about the aircraft project because it was successfully completed by Kozanowski several weeks ago and he will tell you all about it tomorrow when he reaches America. The Tele­vision Center project is producing its share of troubles and then some. Within several weeks most of the equipment should be working fairly well into a temporary antenna. How it will work into the final antenna, no one knows.

(p. 25) Russian engineers are so accustomed to delays that in most cases their promises to meet a schedule or to do something mean absolutely nothing. Yet the majority of them have good senses of humor and pleasing person­alities. In fact it would be strange if they didn’t have the same commendable characteristics which Russians have always had. Individually, I like them.

Please circulate this among my other friends, who surely realize that I haven’t the time to write many individual letters. We do save some time by being here, i.e., there is no such thing as Christmas shopping.

Although we are beginning to understand some of the more fundamental aspects of these people and their government, comments on such matters have been avoided in this letter.

The skiing has been good for several days. At the first opportunity we shall officially open the skiing season for the Moscow branch of the ~A.

We hope that your European trip was in every way very worthwhile and enjoyable.

With best wishes,


Loren Jones.

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